Fri. Mar 1st, 2024

New Canadian contribution to NATO in Latvia

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Four Griffon military helicopters are expected to arrive in Latvia next summer.

The Canadian Press

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Four Canadian Griffon helicopters will be deployed in Latvia next year as part of a NATO deterrence mission, Defense Minister Bill Blair announced Friday during a visit to the Baltic country.

Mr. Blair and Chief of Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre meet with Latvian leaders and visit Canadian troops on the outskirts of Riga, where Canada commands an enhanced forward presence battle group of the #x27;North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

NATO also has battle groups in Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. The military alliance plans to expand brigades along its eastern flank, in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Latvia shares a border of some 270 km with Russia and a shorter one with Belarus, an ally of Moscow.

Canada has already announced that it will double its troop strength in Latvia to approximately 2,200 troops by 2026, and provide a squadron of 15 Leopard 2 tanks, as well as personnel and support equipment. These tanks have already arrived in Latvia and the 130 soldiers are expected to arrive there next spring.

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A dozen countries have Leopard 2 type assault tanks, made in Germany.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, visiting Latvia before the NATO summit last July, announced that $2.6 billion had been set aside to help Canada increase its presence in this Baltic country, including a commitment of $1.4 billion from the 2022 federal budget. Friday's announcement provides some clarity on how some of that money will be spent.

The Canadian Armed Forces also purchases portable anti-armor missile systems from the company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The contract is worth $32.2 million and the systems are expected to be delivered next summer. This acquisition was expedited because it was considered an urgent operational need. Canada also plans to urgently acquire an air defense system for the Latvian brigade.

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Minister Blair said on Friday that medium-range radar capabilities had been deployed as part of this air defense.

The four Griffon helicopters are expected to arrive in Latvia next summer. Since missions in Kosovo and Bosnia in the 1990s and early 2000s, this will be the first time Canada has had a consistent tactical air presence in Europe.

The Royal Canadian Air Force has a fleet of 85 Griffon helicopters, in service since the 1990s. Last year, the government announced an $800 million contract for upgrades that will extend their lifespan by up to 27 The first of these upgraded helicopters is expected to be ready next year, with the final upgrades completed by 2028.

Canada also plans to periodically send Chinook helicopters to Latvia starting in fall 2025.

At the same time, $15 million will be devoted to improving infrastructure in Latvia. The camp is home to approximately 1,700 soldiers, including 800 Canadians, and its facilities are visibly strained.

The base is a mix of permanent buildings, #x27;temporary shelters, tents and containers. Portable toilets are scattered throughout the grounds.

Minister Blair said on Friday that the $2.6 billion package announced in July , Canada will spend 3.1 million euros to improve living conditions at the camp and 4 million euros to build housing at the nearby Ceri site, which will be the headquarters of the multinational brigade.

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